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Fish Welfare Assessment (FiWeA) - Development of Innovative Tools for the Field

English title Fish Welfare Assessment (FiWeA) - Development of Innovative Tools for the Field
Applicant Pietsch Constanze
Number 180864
Funding scheme Bridge - Discovery
Research institution Hochschule für Agrar-, Forst- und Lebensmittelwissenschaften HAFL Berner Fachhochschule BFH
Institution of higher education Berne University of Applied Sciences - BFH
Main discipline Animal Breeding
Start/End 01.05.2019 - 30.04.2023
Approved amount 849'912.00
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All Disciplines (3)

Animal Breeding
Molecular Biology

Keywords (4)

fish welfare; aquaculture; field assessment tool; stress

Lay Summary (German)

Zurich University of Applied Sciences
Lay summary
Ein Tier zeigt gutes Wohlbefinden, wenn sein Verhalten und seine physiologischen Kapazitäten es ihm erlauben mit Stressoren aus der Umwelt umzugehen und seine Ressourcen nicht überstrapaziert werden. Die Komplexität der Einflussfaktoren auf das individuelle Wohlbefinden eines Tieres führt aber dazu, dass die Herleitung von kausalen Zusammenhängen eine enorme Herausforderung darstellt. Weiterhin variieren insbesondere für Fische die Bedürfnisse an ihre Haltungsumgebung beträchtlich zwischen Arten, Zuchtstämmen und einzelnen Tieren. Daher erfordert die Bestimmung des Fischwohls basierend auf Umweltfaktoren die Identifizierung von einer für das jeweilige Tier oder Population relevanten, umfangriechen Serie von Haltungsparametern. Eine effektivere Methode ist die Bestimmung von tier-bezogenen Welfareparametern. Dieser Ansatz hat den Vorteil, dass das Tier an sich einen Welfarestatus zeigt, der sich als Summe von Einflüssen aus der Umwelt und auch möglicherweise unbekannte Einflüssen darstellt. Dies macht die Entwicklung von Fisch-basierten Welfare-Bestimmungsmethoden eindeutig wichtiger und soll daher der Fokus des vorliegenden Projektes werden. Die geplanten Untersuchungen sollen zur Entwicklung eines innovativen und verlässlichen Tools zur Bestimmung des Fischwohls auf Fischfarmen führen.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 05.02.2019

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
OptiGene Limited Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
- Industry/business/other use-inspired collaboration
Thomas Mueller, Kansas State University United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
- Exchange of personnel
Lucerna Chem Switzerland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
- Publication
- Research Infrastructure
- Industry/business/other use-inspired collaboration

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
International Meeting of the Aquaculture Society Talk given at a conference New insights into the appetite gene regulation in common carp (Cyprinus carpio). 07.10.2019 Berlin, Germany Rhyner Nicola; Pietsch Constanze;

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: print media, online media eigene Website (deutschsprachig) International 2020
Media relations: print media, online media eigene Website International 2019


Aquaculture is a globally growing industry in which innovations are being made at many levels. In addition, an increasing number of fish is being used for scientific experiments. While technical progress has been made in fish husbandry, our understanding of the biology of the fish themselves has not advanced at the same rate. To date, little attention has been payed to the well-being of fish in husbandry, which is why this proposed project, which is likely to revolutionise the assessment of fish welfare, is much needed.An animal experiences good welfare if its behavioural and physiological abilities to cope with stressors are not overused. The complexity of factors that influence the well-being of individual animals means that revealing clear causal relationships is an enormous task. Furthermore, the environmental requirements of fish vary tremendously between species, strains and individuals. Consequently, assessing fish welfare using environmental parameters requires the identification of a relevant set of environmental variables for each individual species or even population. A more effective method may be to assess animal-based welfare parameters. The advantage of this approach is that the effects of the entire environment, including potentially unknown parameters, are incorporated and their direct impact on individual well-being is measured. Therefore, a fish-based approach to developing a general welfare assessment method is clearly preferable and is the focus of this proposed project.The welfare status of fish is generally influenced by the impact of stressors. The perception of a stressor activates stress responses in the animal - a set of behavioural and physiological processes that aim to restore a biological equilibrium. These stress responses are grouped into primary, secondary and tertiary mechanisms. Measuring the initiation of primary stress responses provides an opportunity to evaluate stress levels independently of the characteristics of the stressor. This is advantageous when comparing different stressors or interactions of stressful stimuli. In contrast to the currently common practise of analysing tertiary stress responses, focusing on the first biological responses to stresses allows countermeasures to be applied before the stressors cause obvious and irreversible harm, which is important for good on-farm management. The proposed improved method of investigating stress responses in fish is based on the evaluation of gene expression patterns, which show early stress responses in the brain. To measure these patterns, technological innovations are needed that make the method suitable for fieldwork and at the same time sensitive enough to yield sound results. Such techniques that provide a more accurate and effective assessment of fish welfare would have an enormous impact on the ethical, social and economic aspects of fish husbandry. If measured stress response parameters differ between eustress, acute distress and chronic distress in particular, these gene expression parameters will provide a better bioindicator, which can be used for welfare status checks by governmental agencies and on-farm management. Therefore, the aim of the FiWeA project team is to develop gene expression detection methods and appropriate standard operation procedures suitable for expression analysis in the field. These techniques will allow accurate, easy, reliable and affordable analyses to be carried out without excessively laborious and time-consuming laboratory work. It is likely that such a test will not only be of use for aquaculture and research in Switzerland, but will doubtlessly attract interest worldwide.